The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the expectation that the Nov. 3 election will be largely done through mail-in-ballots in California.
And the Santa Barbara County Elections Office is confident that it will be able to accurately and efficiently count votes despite the expected increase in ballots sent through the mail.
The Elections Office must deliver ballots to local post offices by Oct. 5, the first day residents can start mail-in voting. However, the elections division is working with its ballot printer to possibly get ballots delivered to Santa Barbara County post offices on Sept. 28, according to Joe Holland, the county clerk, recorder, assessor and registrar of voters.
“We’re not really anticipating any problems,” he said. “It’s just that with the volume of vote-by-mail across the nation, we wanted to work with our printer to make sure we’re ahead of the game.”
Mr. Holland added that the Elections Office doesn’t expect the increased volume of votes by mail to overwhelm the U.S. Postal Service and complicate the election. As his office works closely with local post offices, Mr. Holland is confident that the Postal Service will ensure ballots are handled efficiently and returned to the Elections Office in a timely manner.
For this reason, he does not expect voter fraud to be an issue come November.
“At this point, I’m not concerned because I know our postal officials will give vote-by- mail ballots their highest priority,” Mr. Holland said.
Because a majority of Santa Barbara County voters already cast their ballots via mail, the Elections Office doesn’t view the expected increase to be all that significant.
“In Santa Barbara County, we’ve always been 75 to 80 percent vote by mail, so all we’re doing is adding 20 percent,” Mr. Holland said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order from May ruling that every registered voter in California be mailed a ballot ahead of the general election also rules that in-person voting opportunities be provided to those who require them. The Santa Barbara County Elections Office will comply by setting up 36 in-person voting locations throughout the county. This is a far lower number than the 86 voting locations planned for the election back in March. When pandemic restrictions took effect, most locations were deemed too small to accommodate social distancing.
However, Mr. Holland said that the decreased number of voting locations will be made up for with a greater amount of time in which people can vote. Whereas the initial 86 locations were only going to be open on election day, the 36 new locations will be open for eight hours on Oct. 31, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. On Nov. 3, the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to. 8 p.m.
In addition to more days for voters to cast their ballots in person, 35 newly installed vote-by-mail drop boxes will be installed across the county on Oct. 5 and be available through election day.
The vote-by-mail ballot mailing period is from Oct. 5 to Oct. 27, and the last day to register to vote online is Oct. 19.